From Labouring to Learning

My new book examines the lives of a group of young working class men in a de-industrial community in the UK. Over two and a half years I conducted ethnographic fieldwork looking at how young men aged 16-18 performed their masculinities across a variety of educational and leisure spaces. This book challenges commonly held beliefs about working-class young men that appear in the media and in policy discourses, as feckless, out of control, educational failures and lacking aspiration. I argue that for a group of young men in a community of social and economic deprivation, expectations and transitions to adulthood are framed through the industrial legacy of geographically and historically shaped class and gender codes. These codes impact what it means to be a man and what behaviour is deemed acceptable and what is not.

Final Cover Image

The book is available to pre-order here from the publishers Palgrave Macmillan or from Amazon, other retailers are of course available!

What people have said about the book

From Labouring to Learning is one of the most significant studies on working class masculinities since Willis’ Learning to Labour and Walker’s Louts and Legends. Ward provides powerful and nuanced insights into the lives of marginalized young Welsh men in deindustrialised times, and extends our understanding of multiple masculinities, both in terms of its theoretical and methodological applications. His metaphor of chameleonisation captures the complexities of the classed, gendered and heteronormative processes involved in the re-traditionalized and re-embodied practices of masculinity for young working class men in South Wales. This book is indeed an important contribution to the field of masculinity studies in education.

Wayne J. Martino, Professor of Equity and Social Justice Education, The University of Western Ontario, Canada.


In From Labouring to Learning Ward vividly explores how young men in the Welsh Valleys negotiate the education system and prepare for an insecure world of work. His colourful portraits of traditional masculinities, Geeks and Emos offer an intimate insight into the role that education, gender and class play in young men’s coming-of-age. Close observations, detailed field notes and the author’s own willingness to listen, make for a rewarding ethnography showcasing the shape-shifting aspects of young masculinities in rapidly changing times.

Anoop Nayak, is Professor in Social & Cultural Geography, Newcastle University, UK.


Processes of de-industrialisation have been one of the major influences on the identities and practices of masculinities.   However, this impact cannot simply be described as providing for a ‘crisis of masculinity’.   Carrying out careful and sensitive ethnography in a small part of South Wales, Michael Ward demonstrates the complex nature of masculinities as young men move through different forms of further and vocational education.   We have vivid and often touching accounts of the different ways in which masculinities are performed, accounts which take us beyond standard models or stereotypes.   This combines deep community -based understandings of economic and educational change with detailed insights into everyday lives and performances.   Michael Ward has given us a major contributions to masculinity studies, to the sociology of education and to local community-based social enquiry.

David H. J. Morgan, is Emeritus Professor at the University of Manchester, UK.


From Laboring to Learning takes us inside the lives of boys who are re-imagining manhood in post-industrial Wales. Ward unpacks the multiple, often contradictory, ways young men perform masculinity and attempt to maintain masculine control in this fraught context. Most originally, his analysis reveals how masculine performance and power are intricately entangled with place. Both deeply sensitive and convincingly analytical, this book is a wonderful example of educational ethnography in the interactionist tradition.

Edward W. Morris, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Kentucky, US.


The past 30-40 years have witnessed a number of educational ethnographies all of which have provided important insight into the way in which formal learning has the potential to impact the wider orbits of everyday life. Some of these accounts have focused on gender relations and where this has been the case the relationship between individual identity and educational trajectory has come to the fore. In this ground-breaking book, Michael Ward maps the educational journeys of a small group of working-class males from the Welsh Valleys charting both the history and impact of de-industrialisation in this once vibrant economic community. Set within the context of the social and political realities of modern-day life and an in situ personal biography, From Labouring to Learning presents a nuanced articulation of how young men from the Valleys ‘do’ masculinity in a world where traditional forms of manliness remain and where broader conceptions of gender and sexuality are flavoured by the cultural expectations of by-gone days.

Andrew Parker, Professor of Sport and Christian Outreach, University of Gloucestershire, UK.

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2 thoughts on “From Labouring to Learning

  1. Pingback: The English Barber and ‘Blokey’ Banter | sociologist on tour

  2. Pingback: Book Launch 22nd October 2015 | sociologist on tour

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